The importance of empowerment

  • Published
  • By Maj Tom Grant
  • 22nd Communications Squadron
The Air Force is not slowing down, every day our Airmen are asked to do more and more with less. As leaders we continue to push through these challenges with our Airmen. However, we do not always have the answers or know how to solve the problem. This is why empowerment has a vital role within our units and in the U.S. Air Force.

Every day as leaders we have the ability to empower someone to develop a solution to a simple a task, a major issue or enterprise-wide problem. However, this power is not always given easily. As leaders we sometimes like to make sure we are directly involved in developing solutions for problems. Nevertheless, as leaders continue to advance through the ranks more is asked and expected from them. This is when a leader needs to understand the importance of empowerment and allow other individuals to start blossoming as problem solvers.

I witnessed firsthand the evolution of empowerment when I was an advisor in Afghanistan. When I was with the Afghan National Army special operations command advisory group I mentored leadership while they forward deployed an advanced system to 13 locations in Afghanistan. As I was participating in a senior leader engagement, I watched my mentee try to solve all the logistical and operational issues with the system. He personally was planning on traveling to every location with the equipment and watching it become operational.

One of the many problems was that my mentee was a colonel with other tasks and issues that required his attention and a plan of this magnitude would take him away from his staff for over five months. I explained to him the idea of empowerment. While he was very hesitant, he understood that being out of pocket for five months was worse than personally overseeing the deployment of the system. He decided to empower six members of his staff to travel to a couple locations each and operationalize the system, providing him only issues or concerns they had. Overall the project was a success, and the system was deployed in two months.

The pace of the mission is not decreasing, and it shouldn’t. We are asked every day as Airmen to defend our country, and we should strive for excellence in all we do at every rank. Leaders at every level need to understand the value of empowerment. A person can only handle so much. For instance, if we all have a plate in front in us with everything we have to do; the plate can only hold so much before we lose focus or something falls off. Just like my Afghan mentee, there was only so much he could handle and continue to effectively run his staff. As a leader it is important to empower personnel to solve issues that only have 10 percent of our focus where others could utilize 80 percent of their focus to execute a solution more efficiently. Not only will the problem get solved, but as a leader you pass these opportunities to others and grow them as leaders.